The Bruting and Bretting of Beer
With three and one-half years passed since this site revved up, but some 40 years before that intensive study of beer, brewing, and their history, my summing up tends to telescope a much longer period and experience than calendar 2018.
Hence, we tend not to enumerate lists of favourite beers, pubs, beer blogs, and other writerly productions of the last year. Our perspective is much broader.
As well, we have not the time to follow and read everyone who should be followed, and would leave out probably important names or information, which should not be slighted thereby.
Further, for us the experience of enjoying a fine beer, or whisky, is much tied to the moment. A can of the same beer, bought at the same time, often seems different when broached a month later, whisky too even from the same bottle. So a nod may not hold much water, so to speak.
It is better to give general impressions that take into account my long experience and how each year adds to it. In a word, 2018 has never been better. There is more choice of beer, and more better beer, than I have ever seen. Whisky and other spirits, the same.
It is true in Ontario, and here in Florida where I am on extended sojourn. It is true in Britain and France, each of which I visited twice this year. It is true everywhere else I have been.
At the same time, the wider beer world continues. Most people still like light, flavourless beer. In the supermarkets here the ranks of Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, Miller Lite, Corona, Modelo, and similar are long and impressive. The equivalent is true in Canada.
In some regional markets, say southwest U.S. or south Florida, the Hispanic market remains a major demographic for similar beers from Central and South America.
So this world goes on and likely will for a long time. So does the more traditional world of imports, where both quality and “price” pre-craft beers still sell well such as Heineken, Becks or other German brands, and many U.K. or Irish brands (Fuller, Newcastle Brown, and of course Guinness).
We like some of these and have found off-beat brands from corners of Asia that continued traditional European styles often with more authenticity than Europe offers today. San Miguel Negra (Dark) from Philippines puts the Paulaner Dunkel I had in Munich in the shade, so to speak again.
A beer from French-influenced Laos, 6.5% ABV Laobeer dark lager, was similarly superior in relation to dark lagers from France.
Yet some German blonde lager, and other Dunkel or bock available here, show why Germany has been a byword for centuries for brewing. I mentioned some in recent tweets.
These beers are rarely trumpeted in their home land in the way craft beer is here, but the relationship is close.
If I had one granular comment to make for 2018, it is that this seemed the year in Ontario when almost every can of craft beer seemed to include wheat as an ingredient. Even in many ales and lagers this was true, in which it is not traditional.
In Florida, the ale and lager equivalents I have run into wheat is not mentioned in the ingredient lists. I think the beers are better for it. Wheat seems often to add a drying or toasted note, especially in well-attenuated beers. It is simply not necessary in my view, and I wonder if it is being used to assist raising a head for beers that are over-attenuated.
It is the one trend I have not liked but all the rest, from brut to brett, is fine with me even if I hew mostly still in personal supping to ale, porter, and lager.
I should add as well that the limited edition 1870 AK Bitter, a historical recipe I brewed with Amsterdam Brewery in Toronto, was a personal highlight. We are repeating it in 2019 but the approach will be tweaked somewhat, details to appear here soon.
The advent of online media has largely rendered books and magazines superfluous as a source of information for consumers, but they are still valuable for other purposes – historical work or memoir, say, or to showcase a skillful stylist, Briton Adrian Tierney-Jones is the foremost example.
To use the vernacular that originated in the land I write, net net, it is all good. It is win win.
And the reason for that is the freedom to implement new ideas in our liberal economies, to be a Ken Grossman in 1980, or Campaign for Real Ale seer in 1971, or Jim Brickman in Ontario in 1985.
Risk there is a plenty – they go hand in hand – but innovation and creative thinking have changed the beer landscape irreversibly in 40 years. Change will continue depending on what producers (mainly, today) envisage, and what their consumers want. In a free society, so it should be.
From a personal standpoint, where it began in 1978 and where it stands now is the realization of everything one could hope for and then some.